Category Archives: spiritual leadership

Courageous Church Conversation with Coffey

I recently stumbled across a series of blog posts by Shaun and Rai King (see the primary post here). In these exchanges the Kings describe (and defend) Shaun’s decision to step down as Lead Pastor of Courageous Church in Atlanta (which they planted in 2009).

I recently posted a link to the article on Facebook and ended up having a significant exchange with my friend Marshall Coffey. Marshall has agreed to let me share that conversation here with a few additional comments. (In order to remain true the original conversation, I have not edited these comments for content or typos.)

Marshall: After two difficult church planting journeys, I know the difficulty of the task. Yet I read immaturity in this couple with an intense focus on self. In our criticisms of church we often become the new religious elite, those who “have it figured out”. After three years they took shortcuts where Jesus mentored people who didn’t get it. As someone has said, “the family of believers already has an accuser.” Let’s not be guilty of joining him in our accusations. Love must drive everything we do, followed by patience.

Bret: Marshal – I don’t know these people so I can’t speak to their immaturity or maturity. They are obviously flawed (as are we all) but what I see here is an attempt to process through these issues and to whatever degree possible, to respond faithfully. However, after having been a part of a church plant that became a victim of its own “success” I also identify with their struggle to discern what it means to remain faithful to their calling.

The place where I see the most evidence of “immaturity” is in Rai’s first post – which she herself comes back and comments on how she spoke out of the raw emotion of the moment. I can only imagine how painful it can be for our wives to watch the pain we go through – particularly in the type of leadership situation that Courageous Church had chosen (we can say whatever we want about whether this was a healthy approach – regardless, its what they had.) However, she also seems to be trying to process through the event without being dishonest.

I see what you’re saying about “taking shortcuts” – but I also identify with their position. There comes a point when the rest of the leadership and the voice of the congregation is calling for a particular direction, focus and style of leadership where we must decide a couple things – Am I simply threatening the good this church IS doing by constantly trying to pull them in a different direction? Can I remain faithful to my calling and go the direction they’re calling for?

Perhaps one part of spiritual elitism is thinking that we know best and should remain at the helm regardless of what the rest of the congregation seems to want. Again, I’m not a big fan of this type of leadership model – but its the one their congregation has.

One reason I think we should all read this is that it highlights a trend that is beginning to emerge across denominations and cultural contexts. It seems that church plants that are seeking to function missionally face this kind of struggle (in one way or another) after about three to five years. We did, [at least three other church plants associated with our network did] – Hugh Halter and Alan Hirsch both comment on similar situations themselves and with countless others they’ve spoken to. As I’ve continued research for my doctoral project, it seems that this story is the norm

The pull of culture toward comfortable and consumer driven forms of “church” doesn’t stop just because we’ve seen early successes in living missionally – in fact, they seem to increase. A statement made to me a couple years ago seems to sum up a lot – “Okay, we’ve done this missional stuff. When do we get to be a real church?” Many times this is a result of the church planters making concessions and compromises to the missional calling along the way, but not always.

The question is how we will deal with this situation when it arises. I think it also highlights the need from the very beginning to not just focus on “missional church” but more specifically, missional discipleship.

Marshall: Bret, all good thoughts. Thank you. I can identify for sure. I stand as one still looking for answers. I see the trend you mentioned. I suppose we should expect it and learn how to push beyond it. Not sure how. What I do know is discipleship is a long and arduous process. We cannot make people “missional”. We can model and equip. We can teach. Ultimately, we’re waiting for the Lord to move in their hearts like he has the church planter’s. 

I try to recognize that many people who come into our churches are already tired, and most of them are experiences many forms of brokenness. Do we sometimes lay an additional burden on them with our talk of discipleship and missional living? I want us to be thoughtful how we present the message of following Jesus in a radical way. Until he is their Master in whom they place their hope, they will not experience freedom in the journey. They will be like those disciples in John 6 that wanted more bread but not the Bread of Life, and simply desert Jesus.

The immaturity I read in this couple is 1) They expected their desire and their words to quickly transform hearts, and after a very short time they stand in judgment on people who came for “not getting it.” 2) They both exhibit an air of superiority based on their grasp of discipleship that’s at a deeper level than others. I recognize it because I was (or still am?) arrogant in a similar way. I see this in many who leave one naiveté regarding church but have not come to grips with where that leaves them. Negativity is detrimental. (I think Rae’s first post is a great example of why we should not vent in a public way.) 3) His first two points where good, but his third was deficient. He’s suffering the Elijah syndrome of thinking there are so few, when God says, “shows what you know.” Who can count the faithful disciples of our Lord, and who judges the criteria of discipleship. I know I cannot. 

I’m convicted in Ephesians of the perspective God has of His Church. When I see Him enthroning His church alongside Jesus (2:6) and empowering them in the resurrection and ascension power of Jesus (1:19-20), I question how I’ve come to have such a low view of His church (in the past at least). I hear in the language of many church planters a low view of church and a high view of discipleship. Perhaps we should question if our culture is informing that as well. We need correctives, but need to be careful in running too far ahead.

Please here me say, I’m not condemning them. They are learning from their mistakes just as I did, the hard way. They are passionate but dangerous. Perhaps they need to stick with non-profit and show their discipleship there. Church has always and will always have a tension of arriving and not-yet-arriving. We need the Ephesians perspective, calling people to become what God has already made them.

Bret: I’m totally with you on the low-church vs high-discipleship issue. I am constantly getting myself in trouble with the more “organic” folks over that very issue.

I think the title of his third point is a bit of hyperbole (whether intended that way or not) – but I agree with his following paragraphs. Your point about the slow process of discipleship is well made. A question we must ask though is whether our patience serves to slowly lead folks out of consumer mindsets or provides a safe place to continue in the perpetually.

I’m against putting “additional burdens” on people – particularly the non-essential baggage that institutional forms of church have accumulated. I’m not so sure that missional life and discipleship can be added to that list though. These form the backbone of our calling itself. Jesus is the one who said “come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” But he also said, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” – And then there’s that “take up your cross daily and follow me” thing. Jesus “lost” a lot of disciples this way too. We shouldn’t try to run people off – but we have to be honest about what the call to Christ entails.

I’m all about inviting people to share life with us even before they’re ready to embrace the way of Jesus – I do it all the time. But I’m very much against communicating to people that its okay to accept Jesus as Savior and leave the Lord part until later…because later rarely gets here.

There is danger of elitism here…but it is a danger we all face constantly. My theory is that we’re all a little elitist – the rancher who talks down about city-folk, the uneducated who mock those in school, the Southerner who belittles the yankee – and vice versa for all these – …the list goes on and on.

Perhaps he was wrong to step down – perhaps not. I’m not sure from the little information we have. Maybe the problem is that these types of reflections will always be read with judgmental tone assumed when they’re published so close to the time of the event (I know this from personal experience).

One of the big questions I’m hearing from you (which I share) is whether the proper response to folks “not getting it” is to leave. My suspicion is that there isn’t an easy answer. I can identify with his statement that he can’t continue on the path of church as a “big buildings. huge crowds. few disciples.” Should he have stayed and helped them move towards a more healthy expression? Perhaps.

I don’t present these posts as an endorsement of all their content – in a different conversation, I’d have some pretty strong critiques. However, I do think there is much to reflect on and learn here. I’m not sure whether it was a good idea to put everything “out in public” like this or not – I can see both sides. However, I do know that what they’re saying is something that many are thinking – and feel isolated in their thoughts – so, in a sense, it also serves to confront the Elijah complex that many of us have.

thanks for the dialog!!! Its been helpful for me.

Marshall: My point about “additional burdens” concerns how we frame, or perhaps how they hear, our missional language. It can sound like more busyness rather than a way of life that is freeing and joyful, yet always calling us to the cross, His and ours.

I’ve also shifted my thinking away from the one’s who don’t seem to get it, allowing them to sort of stay present in their apathy, and instead pour energy and time into those beginning to open eyes. The former I can do nothing about. The latter is an exciting medium of art where the Master artist is busy doing his creative thing.

Bret: The busyness thing is certainly an important issue here – I’m currently writing a blog post for Helen Lee with the working title, “Missional Isn’t About Putting God First” – one of my primary points is that our life with God cannot be defined by stuff we add to or take away from our schedule – it actually entails a rearranging of how we view and engage everything. So the calling is actually much more than adding something to your already full schedule – its viewing the whole schedule (and more) as the context for God’s movement. – So, I’m with you here.

Your reply about pouring energy into those beginning to open their eyes is good – I’m in agreement. But what happens when the majority of the congregation seems to exist in the previous camp and expect you to focus your energies on the things they want? And not to be argumentative or critical (just trying to get at this from every angle), but how do you make these judgements (open eyes versus closed) without falling prey to the same elitism that you see in the original post?

Marshall: I don’t see it as a judgment thing, but a recognition. It may be how Paul chose a Timothy. As we spiritually discern our people, we can see those who are asking and seeking to go deeper. In a sense, I cannot help but notice, and I’d like to think it is a derivative of the Holy Spirit. I’m not suggesting everyone else gets kicked to the curb because we have very limited understanding of where they are in their lives, or at what point they may seek to go deeper. So its not, “We’ve got it and you don’t,” but a natural gravitation toward those God has positioned for His glory. The hot ones may be a key to opening the perspectives of the are not as far along. If a congregation is stifling the Spirit, perhaps that is a recognition to move on to more fruitful branches. When we moved into our current context, an established congregation, we came looking for 5-10% that seemed to be getting it or wanting “it”, knowing God has a history of using a few insignificant folks like myself to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine. I cannot see everything or much at all about our future here, but a granule of sand a day will eventually fill a bucket. Insert the Holy Spirit who may empower in His time, and you get the shore.


I realize this is already a long post, but I’d like to offer a few final comments. This issue gets at the heart of our struggle to cultivate missional communities. We are trying to embrace people in the midst of their brokenness AND call them to embrace risk and adventure on mission with God. I believe both are not only possible, they are necessary…but they are certainly difficult.

Marshall makes some great points – particularly in reference to the patience required in discipleship. A six month process leading to large-scale change is pretty quick…which is one of the major drawbacks of an event and program driven church regardless of size. Its also a reason to consider whether a top-down program change will ever be effective – that’s my not-so subtle plug for Communitas, an approach that focuses on encountering the change you hope to see rather than mandating it 😉

However, change is difficult in any context.

The question of when to move on as a leader is quite difficult. On the one hand I very much appreciate Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s statement in The Wisdom of Stability: “If life with God can happen anywhere, it can happen here.” And yet, on the other hand, when a community of people, including leadership, insist on moving in a direction that you are convinced (and have had others affirm) is not the direction God is calling you…what is the proper response?

I recently struggled with a similar question for about a year. My initial impulse was to just leave and do something else out of frustration and exhaustion. But as I spent time in prayer it seemed that the Spirit was telling me to stay put and submit to the community for a season. Over time my heart changed. My desire to start something new remained, but for a whole new reason. I began to view the situation as an opportunity for new growth – not leaving something else behind.

I began to see that there were leaders in place who had a clear vision for where they felt God was leading them – specifically toward more one-on-one connection in discipleship outside of “church” participation. At the same time, I felt increasingly drawn toward reclaiming practices of spiritual formation, worship, etc that would seek to form a missional discipleship culture within the church community (as expressed in both the gathered and scattered church). So, why not use this as an opportunity to “plant out” and spread our influence to other parts of the community?

Things didn’t all progress quite like I’d hoped or anticipated…they rarely do. But we press on in light of God’s grace. While I know very little about Courageous Church or the Kings, I hope and pray that there will be grace and mercy shown throughout this transition and that both they and the community of Courageous Church will continue to pursue life with God boldly and… well, courageously.

My thanks to Marshall for his willingness to process through this stuff with me…and to you for reading all the way to the end!


From Theology to Practice

This morning I had the opportunity to take part in the filming of a new video for Mission Alive dealing with the issue of “Moving from Theology to Practice.” (Keep an eye out here and a Mission Alive’s website for the release of that video.) As is often the case, as I was driving back across the metroplex, I thought of a dozen things I wished I had said or said differently.

Partly this is because I felt a little disconnected and disjointed in my interview (we’ll see what wonders they are able to do in editing…) But the primary reason I couldn’t stop thinking of things I wish I’d said is that I believe this subject is So. Very. Important!

Much ink and perhaps a little blood has been shed over finding the “best practices” for ministry…and all too often those quests have been carried out with little thought given to the theological implications of our choices. Worse yet are the myriad of successful practices (where success = large crowds and financial support) built around anemic or just plain BAD theology (see Richard Beck’s excellent series on Why Bad Theologies are So Popular).

We often fail to see the ways in which the unreflective adoption of “best practices” can shape the way we view other people and even the way we view God.

In the case of “bad” theology the problems can run even deeper. Here’s a popular example (and one which I think many people are starting to see through): The loss of a loved one is deeply traumatic – all the more so when that loved one is young. In our attempts to console grieving family, statements are made, such as: “God just needed another angel.”

Aside from the fact that this statement completely misunderstands the origin of angels, it also says some very unsettling and incriminating things about God. It is even more unsettling when these types of statements are made from the “pulpit.” (Some may not agree with making a distinction between what a “normal” person says and what a “minister” claims – but that is simply the reality of the situation in traditionally structured churches.)

Beginning with best practices or unreflective theology works against the goal of cultivating faithful missional communities.

Additionally, it seems that a large number (I won’t pretend to know the percentage) of people involved in church planting are doing so from a largely reactionary and negative mindset. In this case, I don’t necessarily mean “negative” in the sense of having a sour attitude, but rather that our practices and our theology (even if its just implicit) are rooted in negating or reversing what someone else has done.

To be sure, there are some abuses of the past which should be reconciled or flat-out abandoned. However, in talking about moving from theology to practice, an inherent claim is that our thinking about God, faith, church, discipleship, worship, etc., should be generative (developed by what are we FOR because of the gospel vs. what we are against).

Think about it this way: When someone asks about your church planting (or your established context…or your personal faith – this holds true across contexts) how do you describe it? Do you begin with, “We/I aren’t so focused on _____” or “We’re/I’m trying to get away from _____”?

These statements may have their place – particularly when they’re used to clarify false-assumptions about the nature of our community. However, when they become the language of vision casting (formal or informal), warning sirens should begin going off in our heads.

The question that needs more attention in these situations is, “Okay, so what ARE you/AM I about?”

One thing I appreciate about Mission Alive’s approach is the steady commitment to deal substantively with this question – BEFORE formulating a strategy for church planting.

A couple years ago I read John Patton’s From Ministry to Theology. Patton states, “Christian ministry involves not only understanding what we do in light of our faith, but also understanding our faith in the light of what we do.” It is in the context of our dealings with others that our theology is able to be fleshed out and incarnated. I’ve begun incorporating this insight into my own work and teaching – We move from ministry to theology to practice.

This is not referring to ministry as an official position of leadership in a church – I mean ministry as engaging in concern, care and service within an actual place with actual people.

Theology, if it is going to lead to healthy practice, must be contextual theology – it is rooted in what God is up to IN THIS PLACE. To be sure there are cosmic elements to our theology (things that transcend time and place) but even they have contextual implications.

The people we encounter, the trials we go through and the victories we witness are able (if we’re willing to reflect carefully) to shed light on our theology, just as our theology sheds light on them. In her book Teaching From the Heart, Mary Elizabeth Moore addresses the value of case studies in religious education. One significant point in the book is her reminder that there is truth to be found in the case itself – not just in what we bring to it. When our eyes are open to what is happening around us, we begin to realize that God is indeed still at work in this world – and lo-and-behold, God’s actions are still able communicate truth.

I recognize that many people are hesitant to engage in theological reflection. I’ve heard a number of people say, “that’s for academics – my calling is in the field.” Or others are suspicious of the whole process: “I just read the Bible and do what it says.” I vividly remember a conversation I had at a fast food restaurant with a friend who said, “Well, you know I’m able to hear from God more clearly than you because you’ve read what other people have said about it – but I just read the Bible.”

It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that, but was the first time I heard it from a friend in such a matter-of-fact, non-accusatory way. It was just common knowledge that those who engage in theological reflection – especially if they’ve studied theology -simply can’t hear from the Spirit.

This same struggle has been played out for years between “academics” and “practitioners.” I remember in seminary the tension between those who were preparing for academic careers / PhD studies and those who were preparing to serve as preachers or other local church ministries. One group says the other is too lazy to do the hard work of real substantial theology, while the other group lobs back accusations of being disconnected from the “real life of faith.” (And of course both groups agreed that the missions majors were just plain weird.)

Aside from being a ridiculous game among privileged students (which unfortunately grows into a ridiculous game between privileged professionals) – this whole debate misses anything resembling the point. This isn’t an either/or issue. We cannot hope to cultivate healthy communities of faith without both theological reflection and practical ministry. They are two sides of the same coin – each leading to further insight in the other.

This isn’t to say that we all have to read Barth’s Dogmatics once a year (to my non-nerd friends, Dogmatics is the theological equivalent of War and Peace…great stuff but not a beach-read by any stretch).

However, we must come to grips with the reality that what we do (or choose not to do) will inevitably communicate something about who we believe God to be… At the very least we should pause to think about what that might be.

To be as clear as possible, I’m not simply talking to those who’ve spent the last 14 years pursuing degrees in ministry like this one insane guy I know. Taking the move from theology to practice seriously doesn’t require the ability to read Greek or Hebrew, quote your favorite theologian or describe the history of theological development in the church. (Though, contrary to my fast-food companion, I still think these are valuable contributions to the conversation.)

Theological reflection should inform our practice, it should be considered from within a local context and it is best approached in community. Our churches should be communities of theological discernment – with each disciple contributing the gifts and resources they possess to the process. Theologies which are formed in private can have a tendency to represent our own personal preferences and idiosyncrasies more than the movement of God in this place.

I didn’t really have time, and the context didn’t really allow for me to get into all this in the video…and I expect that about 10 minutes after this is posted I’ll begin thinking of other things I wish I’d said or said differently in this post. But…its a start.

In the meantime, I’d love for others to weigh in on the topic.


The Traveling Companion: episode 4

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

I really like my boys’ names. I know, I better, right? But really, I do. Each of their names are significant and meaningful. All of our boys carry the Wells family name, which of course I was proud to pass on to them, but that isn’t the extent of it.

Conner is Rachel’s mother’s maiden name. With the recent passing of MeeMaw and PeePaw – people who were not only formative in the lives of Rachel and her family, but also in my own life and that of our boys – I am so proud that my oldest son will carry their mark in a special way for the rest of his life. His middle name, Allan, is my middle name as well. Its strange, I didn’t like that name as a kid, but now I feel much differently about it.

Micah was a great prophet and I have always loved the passage in Micah 6:8

“ He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

This was made all the more important to us when we learned that it was PeePaw’s favorite verse as well. Micah’s middle name, Eason, is my mother’s maiden name. I think its pretty cool that our boys have imbedded in their identity a reminder that all families are examples of God’s reconciling work of uniting people who were previously strangers.

Josiah was a good king…I hope that our little assassin will also use his powers for good! In Israel’s history there are very kings that come across well in Scripture and Josiah was one of them. I hope that my son, a child of the king, will follow in the footsteps of his namesake (except for the ill-advised battle against the Egyptian army…). His middle name, Christopher, is also my little brother’s middle name – a name which I had the honor of choosing for Adam too. (Actually I think it was more my stubborn insistence and a mother’s relenting, but that’s another story!)

Naming has always carried great significance – both relationally and often prophetically. Today in class we watched a movie – The Secret Life of Bees – and there is a powerful scene where a community bestows a new name on a young lady who has experienced a long and difficult journey toward healing and redemption. The naming not only signifies new life and a new chapter in her story, but it also communicates her acceptance into the community…into the family.

Look at the number of times in Scripture that God gives someone a new name – Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul just to name some of the big ones. In each case this is about more than just a new driver’s license. Rachel took my name when we were married, signifying that no longer did we represent two separate clans, but were now one family. This name she accepted as her own was one that was offered to me when my own Dad adopted me into his family. None of these situations were insignificant.

The giving or changing of a name is a change of life. It is new life. And that is part of what makes community so powerful. Even if we don’t legally change someone’s name, a commitment to devoted community bestows new identity. When we choose to throw in our lot with a people something significant occurs. In our society it is all too common to devalue this incredibly sacred decision. Abba Antony said, “Wherever you find yourself, do not easily leave there.” I believe that it is time for us to reclaim the value of stability and choosing to remain connected to a community, to embrace and live into our name.

As a society we are lonely and scurry around busily searching for meaning and significance. If we will slow down and invest in the people around us we may find that God has been waiting to use those broken and flawed people to teach us precisely what we’ve been searching for.

The Traveling Companion: episode 3

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

My oldest son talked my wife into letting him get a mohawk…and then he looked mohawks up on wikipedia and learned that they’re named after an American Indian tribe, are typically associated with warriors and apparently a really old cave man body was discovered at some point with the same haircut. That’s what my son does when he gets excited about something, he learns everything he can about it. But it doesn’t stop there – he internalizes and personalizes what he learns. He didn’t just learn about mohawks, he got his mother to cut his hair that way.
I wish that more of us were like my son. He doesn’t fall into the trap of paralysis by analysis. He’s just as obsessive as I am (which brings me no small measure of pride) and will literally sit for hours on end reading things like an encyclopedia, fact book or his beloved world atlas. But then he devises games using the books and wants everyone to play with him; he shares what he learns with everyone else and creates different ways to put his newfound information into practice. (he even has a “learn something every day” blog – you should check out his post on mohawks).
Today we spent a good deal of time discussing different ways to introduce missional ecclesiology to a church, as well as potential contexts for connecting with non-Christians in missional ways. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own experiences with folks in both Mandeville and Burleson, as well as different churches and groups that have asked me to talk about this stuff with them.
Perhaps this is part of the whole “faith like a child” thing that Jesus talked about. We often talk about childlike faith in terms of innocence or simplicity. But maybe it is that wide-eyed desire to learn and grow and immediately apply what we discover. But just as with the question of salt loosing its saltiness, I wonder how do we regain our youthful excitement about and expectation for growth when its faded?
I’ve seen God break through these barriers in people’s lives – including my own – I know for a fact that it can happen. It can happen in stubborn 20-somethings and it can happen in stubborn 60-somethings. I’m learning to embrace the mystery of how the Spirit breaks down these walls and I’m becoming more and more comfortable in my own helplessness. I am not an expert here to fix a congregation’s problems or fix a spiritually confused sojourner. I am, as a wise friend says, simply one hungry beggar sharing bread with others.

The Traveling Companion: episode 2

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

It is so easy to forget how often Jesus withdrew to a solitary place. It is hard to remember that much of his time was spent walking from one town to the next, in conversation with a handful of friends or sitting at a table conversing with extremely interesting people. We remember the miracles. We remember the loaves and fishes. We remember the Sermon on the Mount. But we forget the wedding. We forget the nap in a boat. We forget the disappearing act that happened just before the walking on water. We remember the sweat-drops of blood but forget the garden.
It is so easy to forget how often Jesus gave away ministry. We forget the disciples being sent out, we forget the woman running to tell her friends, “Come see the man who told me everything I’ve ever done!” We forget that Jesus said, “It will be better for you if I go.” We forget that he said, “You will do greater things.” We forget that he said “Go and make disciples.”
It is so easy to forget that Jesus changed people’s lives because he was in their lives. He was typically around the hurting and broken people when he healed them. He could say he loved the poor, because he knew the poor. He could say he loved the sick because he touched their arms. He could say he loved the weak, oppressed and overlooked because that’s precisely the world he was born into. Its so easy to forget that sitting around talking about the poor or the kingdom or the gospel doesn’t mean that we’re inherently involved in those things. But Jesus was. Its easy to forget that we weren’t called to start a religion in his honor, but to live as he lived.
Its easy to forget that without me, the sun stays in orbit, the birds sing and the rain falls. Its easy to forget that I’m not God. Its easy to forget that those who frustrate us by saying, “I’ll be poured out for others, just not too much,” are still loved by God. Its easy to forget that the pastor who forgets to say, “I’ll be poured out for others, just not too much” is already loved by God. We don’t have to become a self-inflicted martyr to impress our Creator.
Its so easy to forget. And that is precisely why we must remember.
We must remember that Jesus announced, “Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand!” We must remember because there are people on our block, just down the street or in the next office who have no idea that Jesus is even now creating and unleashing a new kingdom for them to experience joy and fulfillment beyond measure.
We must remember because Jesus taught us to pray, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We must remember, because it wouldn’t be an appropriate prayer if Jesus didn’t already know it could happen at some level.
We must remember because we cannot hope to lead and participate in a missional expression of faith – that is as a church joining our missionary God in the ministry of reconciliation – if we can’t remember that God is God and we are not.
Its so easy to forget and that is why we must remember.

The Traveling Companion: episode 1

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

When I came to Perkins I expected to have to recontextualize most of my course content. I felt good about the program but didn’t really expect that a mainstream denomination school would really understand my very not-mainstream church planting context. I was okay with that because I just didn’t imagine many advanced programs (yet) would be much different and the folks at Perkins seemed generally excited to have a missional church planter in the program. Last semester’s efforts at digging deeper into the new monasticism have been deeply transformational for me, Rachel and the Chappotins…nobody is able to know me and not experience what I’m experiencing!
And now I’m in a class with 6 other folks and a great professor exploring spiritual leadership in missional churches!!! I didn’t expect to find any classes this tailored to our experience in pioneering new mistakes!
Today was a good start. We began with a spiritual formation exercise in which we fleshed out a metaphor for leadership development using the image of a mountain range. I want to unpack what I drew.
But first, I also want to mention a quote that grabbed my attention. In an interview describing her departure from “professional ministry” Barbara Brown Taylor was asked if doubt played a role in her decision. She said that doubt caused her to poke and pry at her beliefs and issues of faith, and whenever something toppled over she knew that was an idol. Wow! Just last night, Rachel and I were talking about the misconception that doubt is the enemy of faith. I told her that I believe it is fear, not doubt, which is the true enemy of faith. Barbara Brown Taylor beautifully described why doubt is not the enemy.
But back to the mountain metaphor:
Early on as we attempted to lead other leaders up this mountain (a metaphor we’ve used explicitly) we tried to get people to pack appropriately. In reality all of us, myself very much included were trying to carry too much luggage up this steep terrain. Our packs were loaded to capacity and in addition to that 80 lbs many of us were also carrying an extra duffel bag, toiletry bag, computer bags, printer/fax/copier combos, kayaks, hairdryers, stuffed animals, televisions, an Xbox and a 30 volume leather bound commentary set from 1950.
Eventually as we tried to readjust our packs we began to realize that 1) we’d simply overpacked. Some stuff was good, we just couldn’t carry it all – we’d have to distribute the load amongst the group and share resources. Also 2) some stuff just didn’t translate well in the new terrain. It didn’t make sense to try to carry some of the heavy programming stuff that seemed so essential at base camp.
But trying to get everyone to be willing to let go of their teddy bears and comfort blankets was just too much. We simply had to get to climbing and then give people permission to drop their extra stuff along the trail when they got tired of carrying it.
When that point came, however, sadly some of our traveling companions decided they’d rather turn back to base camp rather than part with their extra gear. We’ve met other travelers along the path. We’ve met some along the way who grew too tired to continue and are even now sitting on a rock just off the path, too tired to continue but not sure they can find their way back down the mountain…or that they’d even like what they returned to if they did.
We’ve encountered some who decided they’d traveled far enough and erected a chapel with a nice view of the scenery where they could sing about mountain climbing…with their packs and hiking boots sitting in a neat pile outside.
Truth be told, that was a tempting option for a while. But we’re climbing again.
We catch glimpses of other hikers up ahead – some even seem to have balanced their loads. One of our greatest temptations now is to resist the urge to pick up the extra gear they’ve discarded.
We’re also meeting lonely hikers who are woefully under-equipped and facing great peril by traveling alone. We’re inviting them to experience the safety of climbing with a group. Some have had some bad experiences with mountain climbing expedition groups – some got stuck in the chapels we passed along the way and don’t want to do that again. But we find that as we share food and shelter they often begin to realize that a community on journey together can indeed be a great thing.
I don’t know what the top of this mountain will look like, I don’t even know what lies over the next ridge, I just know that I’m being drawn upward and the scenery is more amazing each morning.
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